Initiatives in education, physical activity, neurodiversity and entrepreneurship honoured at the DCU Engagement Awards
Initiatives by staff and students at DCU to develop professional learning networks in schools in Northern Ireland, deliver physical activity lessons during COVID-19, raise awareness of neurodiversity and foster a culture of student entrepreneurship were all honoured at today’s President’s Awards for Engagement.
The recipients were announced by the President of DCU Professor Daire Keogh at a virtual event which was addressed by the Minister for Community Development and Charities Joe O’Brien, TD.
The awards celebrate the engagement of staff and students in the wider community and reflect the university’s mission to pursue active engagement with communities.
The recipients of the 2021 President’s Awards for Engagement
Dr Martin Brown and Dr Paddy Shevlin, DCU’s School of Policy & Practice, IoE for the establishment of the DCU Centre for Evaluation, Quality & Inspection Shaped Professional Learning Network. It was set up for all school types from all sections of society throughout Northern Ireland.
The network provides free professional learning opportunities to members in core areas of educational provision and gives schools an opportunity to engage and exchange with schools across all sectors of communities in Northern Ireland, sharing good practice and experiences in school self-evaluation and school improvement.
Participants highlighted that the network has served to transform their approach to research, self-evaluation and action planning for improvement and to also transcend the boundaries within education in Northern Ireland.
Special Merit Award
The team behind the hugely successful PE at Home initiative have been honoured with a Special Merit Award. Dr. Sarahjane Belton, Dr. Maura Coulter, Dr. Úna Britton, Nathan Gavigan, Dr. Áine MacNamara, Dr. Mika Manninen and Dr. Bronagh McGrane all played a key role in the development and delivery of the PE at Home series which helped teachers, parents and children to keep learning and remain physically active during lockdown, school closures and ongoing restrictions due to COVID-19.
All lessons were aligned with the Irish PE curriculum and the suite of short video lessons were developed and presented by DCU staff with their children at home. The series attracted over 20,000 views when it aired between April and May 2020.
It has since grown into a national programme in partnership with the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) and supported by the Irish Heart Foundation. In September 2020, the PE at Home suite of lessons were identified as a resource for teachers in ‘Returning to School - Curriculum guidance for primary school leaders and teachers' issued by the DES around reopening schools, and in the new DES Directory of CPD and Online Resources documents.
DCU Neurodivergent Society founded by Laocín Brennan
Biomedical Engineering student Laocín Brennan founded the Neurodivergent Society in September 2019 with the aim of raising awareness of and acceptance of neurodiversity in society and developing a space where all students feel accepted and encouraged to grow and develop.
The society is the first of its kind in Europe and collected the Best New DCU Society Award in 2019/20. It has played a pivotal role in university life, organising and delivering a series of sensory-friendly events during the 2019/2020 academic year, contributing extensively to the launch of the JAM (Just A Minute) card and to self-care and wellbeing training.
It has also supported and contributed to various initiatives under the university’s Autism-Friendly Designation. In addition to this work the society has featured on My Big Idea on RTÉ TV and has been profiled in the Irish Examiner series Future Goals.
Special Merit Award
Cathal Canavan (BA Business Studies) is the recipient of this year’s Special Merit Award for his work in contributing to the development of student entrepreneurship, not only within the DCU community but also nationwide. Cathal has played a key role in the DCU Enactus Society, acting as a committee member from 2019-2020 and then taking on the role of Enactus Ireland Social Ambassador (2019).
Cathal was pivotal in scaling up Second Scoop, an Enactus social enterprise initiative which aims to empower people living in Direct Provision through the provision of work experience. All of the participants on the programme progressed to full-time employment and further education.
Described as having a “fascination with working on solutions to solve problems and the importance of community”, Cathal established the DCU Start-Up Society, and has turned his knowledge around the value of a supportive enterprise ecosystem to good effect. The society is now one of the fastest growing in DCU with Cathal as the first port of call for aspiring entrepreneurs. He has since founded Varsity Sparks, a student crowdfunding competition that brings together third-level students from across Ireland to find the best new entrepreneurial ideas.
Addressing the event the Minister for Community Development and Charities, Joe O’Brien said,
“Its striking looking at the awardees for Engagement how their work helped to
broaden and open up people’s life experience and experience of society more broadly speaking. As Minister with responsibility for our national social inclusion plan I am very happy to commend these projects and the people that made them happen.”
The President of DCU, Professor Daire Keogh commented,
“This year’s awards demonstrate the depth and impact of DCU’s engagement with our communities across areas including education, physical activity, neurodiversity and entrepreneurship. The pandemic may have kept us physically apart, but our staff and students have ensured that DCU remained engaged and facilitated connections, at a time when people had a real need for meaningful and productive interaction.”